Martin and Sarah in France, Day 5

Today we bid Paris adieu. We had become experts at riding the Metro and sidestepping dog poop (every French family owns a dog, and Paris lacks the "scoop laws" of civilized cities like Seattle or Pine Bluff), so it was time to conquer new worlds. We reached the Montparnasse train station  about 10 minutes before our TGV (that's French for "high-speed train") was scheduled to leave. Seats on the TGV are reserved, and naturally our seat was at the far end of a very long train, so we had to run all the way down the platform with all our luggage. What fun. We rode the TGV to Rennes and then caught a bus to our next destination: Mont-Saint-Michel. It's on an island just off the Brittany coast, reachable only via a strip of land just wide enough for a two-lane road (Amazing, that strip of land being there, isn't it?).
       Mont-Saint-Michel is basically a small, steep hill. The abbey at the top was built in the 12th century or so, and a small village grew up around it. The abbey served in later years as a fortress (which explains the rampart going all the way around the island) and a prison. Today it's back to being an abbey; monks have been living there since 1969, but it's hard to see how they get any peace and quiet, because the village is a bona fide tourist trap. There's one street, narrow even by French standards, and it's loaded with hotels, restaurants, wax museums, and souvenir shops. We stayed in a three-star hotel, which sounds nice until I tell you we were on the top floor and most French hotels don't have elevators. The abbey, however, is well worth visiting. It's Romanesque although parts of it got a Gothic makeover, but still it's much less flamboyant and gaudy than Notre Dame or Chartres. It was nice to see something a bit more spare and reserved for a change.
     At night a hundred carefully placed floodlights go on, and the abbey glows like a Christmas pudding. Inside there's currently a multimedia installation called "Les songes a nuit" (Dreams of the Night), where film, sculpture, tapestry, and recorded music and voices greet  visitors. Some of the recorded voices were incredibly cheesy, even in French—like a bad haunted house. And some of the artwork didn't seem to belong in an abbey, but other bits of it were quite nice. We took a lot of pictures. See what you think.
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The view of Mont-St.-Michel's abbey from our hotel room window. There's apparently some maintenance work being done on the abbey steeple. That's what we get for coming after tourist season. Same view, in sepia, just for fun. People seem to like this view, and several have asked me which hotel we stayed in. It was Hotel Croix Blanche—a great place to stay if you don't mind stairs.
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Mont-St.-Michel's only street as viewed from our hotel room window. The flag of Brittany atop a rampart wall. Two lions are better than one.
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I worked hard to get a good shot of this apple tree, so I hope you like it. Detail of the apple tree ... The tidal flats surrounding the island, as viewed through a rampart window. I didn't like the bars in the window ruining my view of the tidal flats, so I ripped 'em out with my bare hands and flung them into the ocean.
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I search the rampart walls for the perfect picture ...  ... and when I find it, I pounce. Getting closer to the abbey...  ...
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The view back down the street, toward the cathedral. As small as this island is, there are at least two churches on it. Someone had just gotten married at the cathedral when we passed by. The abbey at night.  The bits of fluff beneath the pigeon appear to be her young. I had never seen baby pigeons before. We walked back up to the abbey and went inside to visit the "Dreams of the night" exhibit. Giant mutant hamsters were formerly kept at Mont-St.-Michel; here is the exercise wheel to prove it.
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Mont-St.-Michel is also the original location of Plato's cave. This is from an animated film, done using very complicated shadow puppets, that depicts all sorts of pilgrims (the abbey was a popular pilgrimage site). The film was being projected on an abbey wall as part of the installation. Another scene from the pilgrim film. There's no dialogue, only the tune to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Here's a puzzler: A banal chat-room session, moving in real time, is projected over an 8-foot plastic shark with its head stuck in a pillar. Speech software reads the chat session out loud. Technology makes me feel this way too, but what is this doing in an abbey?  Romanesque columns in the main chapel of the abbey. The video screen is part of the art installation.
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Mont-St.-Michel is, of course, named for the archangel Michael, who appeared to a French bishop (I forget the bishop's name) in a dream and told him to build it. It seems the bishop was a little slow in carrying out Michael's orders, so the angel returned to him two more times, and got his point across by poking a hole in the bishop's skull.  See what I mean? Of course, when your head's been sliced in two, why should you worry about a little hole in the skull?  The abbey steeple at night. The statue at the top is Michael, again, in gold. Interior of the abbey chapel. The stained-glass windows are simpler than the Gothic variety; they bear geometric knot patterns reflecting Brittany's Celtic heritage.
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Ceiling of the abbey chapel. And, finally the altar. I dunno ... you can clutter up an abbey with all the modern art you like, but there's a lot to be said for a space like this being a work of art in itself.